“So, what time are we leaving?” Asim asked his sister.
“What do you mean ‘we’, who’s ‘we’?” Malin asked his reflection in her mirror.
“You’re adorable so green,” he said and picked up one of her makeup brushes to inspect it more closely. “Anyway, ‘we’ is you and me and all of your little girlfriends.” He smelled the brush and made a face. “Ugh, are you going to paint your entire body with this?”
Malin snatched her makeup brush from his hand and gave him a look that said not to touch anything, or else. “I don’t remember agreeing to take you with us. Besides, you would look weird because we’re all going to be painted viridian,” she said and continued slathering color on her neck.
“Oh, I’m the one who is going to look weird? What, by not being green?” He laughed.
“It’s viridian, you big idiot, and yeah, exactly that! It’s Viridicon! Everyone is going to be green,” she said.
“You mean viridian,” Asim corrected her as she rolled her eyes. “Fine, I’ll go alone. Like a loser.”
“Plenty of people go to cons alone, there’s no shame in that,” Malin added with authority. “The thing that you should be embarrassed about is showing up to Viridicon looking like a total pleb.” She gave her big brother a derisive look. “I mean, you are one anyway. Not showing up looking like a Viridian is probably going to be the only way to distinguish between true fans of the show and the rest of you.”
“Hey, I’m a fan of the show.” Asim sat on her bed and started inspecting her outfit and a huge red wig that looked like it had been carefully combed.
“Oh please, you didn’t even start watching it until season four and the only thing you’re interested in is the lead actress. You don’t even know her name in the show!” Malin brought her face closer to the mirror to fix any imperfections in her makeup.
“Admiral Tits!” her brother shouted.
“It’s General Siti! Not to mention you have no idea how the portal even works!” she added.
“Uhh, I know the basics, okay? Some extra special person holds a lava lamp and then other people enter their big hole,” he said as he lifted a plastic children’s crossbow, painstakingly customized and painted to look like an exact replica from the show, and aimed it at his sister’s head. “What’s this? Did you glue a real bolt to this thing?”
“You’re making it sound disgusting,” she responded through gritted teeth. “And yes, Deena gave us all some bolts, her dad uses a crossbow for hunting.” Malin turned her chair around to look at her brother. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and said, “Fine, come with us. But please don’t hit on any of my friends, and don’t… I repeat, DO NOT… touch any of our props!”
As Asim and his posse of viridian girls walked through the main entrance, they let out a collective gasp of awe. The entire foyer of the convention center was decorated to look exactly like various locations from the show. A massive golden ball representing the Viridians’ portal was at the very center and visitors could go in and out. One corner was transformed into the front of the Viridian House where the Empress of Viridia resides, and there was even a person dressed like her taking photos with the fans. Another corner was filled with what looked like actual sand and it held an entire little bazaar with booths. Some of them had official merch and books about the show while others displayed art and decor inspired by Viridia. Fans could buy paintings of breathtaking Viridian landscapes and battle scenes, mugs and coasters with quotes from the show, and even 3D printed crossbows.
“Ahh! Look at that plushie, it’s the slimeheaded snail, so cute!” one of Malin’s friends screeched and started going towards the bazaar.
“Wait, wait—” Malin pulled her friend back “—let’s see the schedule and decide what we want to see first and then we can go shopping for plushies,” she said. Asim was relieved to see he wasn’t the only one being bossed around by his little sister but he figured if he didn’t want to end up alone he should probably do whatever they want. After a few minutes of heated debate the girls decided they would see the lectures “Future of Feminism: Female Leadership on Viridia”, then “The Art of Viridian Warfare”, then they’ll have some time for lunch and shopping. And finally, “We’ll end the evening with the full cast panel!” Malin said, barely containing her excitement.
On the way to the first event on their agenda, they strolled through the bazaar.
“I’ll have to go to the ATM during lunch break, I want to buy everything!” one of the girls said and the vendor who was a viridian-colored lady in her fifties smiled at her lovingly. She then looked at Asim head to toe and clicked her tongue in annoyance before turning her attention to the other customers.
“I told you you’d look weird,” Malin whisper-shouted into her brother’s ear. “You can at least get one of those costume masks to put on while we’re here, it’s honestly embarrassing!” She pushed him towards the booth with the masks both depicting real characters from the show and those that just looked vaguely Viridian.
To reach the booth, Asim had to squeeze through a group of other normal-looking people who also appeared to have been brought there by their more enthusiastic friends who took the effort of actually painting their skin.
“Hi, could I have the one that looks like the guy who runs that secret operation thing?” Asim said to the vendor and pointed at one of the burlier-faced masks. He heard some of the people behind him murmur in horror and had a fleeting thought about not really understanding this sort of obsession. It’s only a TV show, he thought, they all need to relax. Just like the lady at the other booth, this guy made sure to give him a look of utter hostility before reaching for the mask Asim had pointed at.
“One Agent Luctis mask,” the vendor said to the cashier who was a boy of fifteen-ish in uncanny cosplay.
“Damn, kid, you look like a real Viridian.” Asim gave him a big smile and handed him the money but the kid just curled his lip at him and turned away.
“Did you see that?” he asked Malin when he rejoined the group. “That kid looked sick!”
“Yeah, dumbass,” Malin said and twisted her face to fix her fake teeth, “everyone made an effort except you. Oh, look, Hall 3 is right over there, there’s our first lecture!” The girls left in a hurry to try to get good spots. Asim took one last suspicious look at the guy who’d sold him the mask and the kid at the cash register, and went after his sister.
“Well, that was weird and off the mark,” Asim said when the lecture about feminism on Viridia was over and took off his mask to scratch his whole face. “And this mask is killing me, I’m sweating like a pig.”
“You are a pig,” Malin’s friend said, “and depictions of widely-received feminist societies in media are important!”
“I didn’t say feminism wasn’t important but that was not a lecture about feminism. It was General Siti idolatry if anything. The guy missed the point of his own lecture!”
“How?” demanded Malin’s friend.
“Actually,” said another one of the girls, “I have to agree with Agent Pig right here. The guy went on and on about how General Siti is one of the most important characters because she’s ‘the source’,” she said, making finger quotes, and Asim saw some of the other girls roll their eyes, “but she isn’t ‘the source’ because she’s a woman, she’s one because of her birthright just like all the other sources, male or female. And she’s not a general because she’s capable but because her class allowed her to reach that rank. Besides—”
“Uh-huh,” Asim happily nodded.
“—they all have lady servants. Not very feminist of them. I’m just saying… Having one bad bitch does not a feminist society make.”
“Well, I thought it was informative!” Malin said stubbornly and sucked in some saliva that had run out of her mouth because of her monster teeth.
“Oh my God, stop doing that,” Asim said to his sister.
“That, the constant pffffff—” he sucked in air through his teeth “—you guys can’t even speak normally with that plastic shit in your mouth, just take it out! That guy was speaking like he was born with those teeth, maybe you should ask him where he got his props because yours suck. Literally!”
Several of Malin’s friends looked at him with disdain and tried very hard not to do what he had just accused them of.
“Asim. Put your mask back on and shut up.” Malin pushed him aside with her crossbow and walked away in anger. When she noticed he wasn’t following behind her, she turned around, looking a little guilty, and shouted at him, “You coming or not?”
“I think I’ll go grab some air, these paint fumes are giving me a headache,” he replied and went for the exit.
There were almost as many visitors outside as inside. They were littered all over the stairs leading to the entrance and the huge yard in front of the building. Most were standing around and chatting, some were sitting on the benches, and some even brought blankets and were having picnics.
“Oh my God, Lisa, you’re crazy! Look guys, Lisa made a real Viridian plum cake!”
“Wow, it looks delicious, give me some!”
Asim observed a group of people his sister’s age losing their minds over a plum cake and thought, Maybe I’m just too old for this. He sat down on the stairs, crossed his arms over his knees and leaned his head down. It was throbbing with pain and each time someone brushed past him, sending a fresh wave of paint stench up his nostrils, he winced.
He figured he wouldn’t make it an entire day at the convention with a splitting headache so he took a shortcut behind the building to the nearest pharmacy. On his way there, Asim passed several trucks with the show’s official logo and saw a bunch of what appeared to be truck drivers having a smoke break.
“Hey, what are you doing, you can’t go through here!” one of them shouted at him. They were all painted viridian. They even made the workers paint their skin, Asim thought incredulously. That’s a little culty.
“Sorry guys, didn’t mean to intrude, I’m just taking a quicker way off the campus, don’t mind me!” he shouted back at them and hurried to a small gate on the other side of the loading zone.
“Take the main entrance next time, kid, don’t let us see you around here anymore!” one of the men replied. Asim felt a little sorry for them and thought he’d probably be testy too if he had to paint himself green for a job.
When he was done at the pharmacy, he stopped at the coffee shop next door to get something to drink. A small group of women from the convention were standing in line in front of him, chatting about the upcoming panel. “Yeah, everything should be ready by 8 p.m. and we’ll have around two hours to clear out,” the most attractive one said before noticing Asim looking at her. “Can I help you with something?” she asked him a little rudely.
“Oh, sorry, I was just admiring your costumes, you all look legit!” he replied. “You don’t even stink!” he added before realizing he was probably being too friendly with some women he’d never seen before.
“Excuse me?!” The woman raised her voice enough to attract attention from everyone at the coffee shop.
“Oh, sorry, I mean, uh, you guys don’t have that paint smell that a lot of the people at the convention do. Did you, uh, did you get, like, a more expensive paint or, or, or what?” he started stammering under the pressure of the women’s persistent angry glare. When he was met with scornful silence, he continued even more awkwardly, “Uh, and ah, your teeth, also great. Umm, custom made? Heh! Very sharp, you could kill a guy with those things!”
“I will if you don’t step off,” she said and turned back around to talk to her friends.
Having survived an embarrassing encounter with some cute girls that he would definitely not be telling his sister about, Asim got a big bottle of water to wash down the aspirin and went back to the campus. He almost took a turn towards the main entrance but thought, Fuck those guys, and went through the back instead. He sneaked in carefully listening for any voices and when he didn’t hear any he continued walking.
Asim almost reached the end of the loading zone when the door of the truck he was sneaking behind burst open and he froze in place.
“Ok, all the tanks have been moved to Hall 3. What’s the warehouse situation?”
“Ahh, maybe twenty for now, and that trapdoor was a great idea, they just plop straight onto a bunch of mattresses in the warehouse.”
“Good, that’s not too many. I don’t think we’ll even need two whole hours to clear out tonight,” Asim heard someone say before their voice trailed off into the distance. I don’t remember there being any tanks on the show, he thought, and why would they clear out tonight if it’s a two-day convention? When he was certain everyone had left he ran ahead.
As soon as he stepped foot in the front yard, a familiar powerful smell slapped him in the face. He sighed and went inside to check out the merch while he waited for the lecture his sister was in to end. The booth with the T-shirts and posters was by far the largest one and had the biggest number of interested buyers hanging around and holding the T-shirts up against their bodies to see if the size fits.
“How are you hanging in there, fellow non-Viridian?” some random guy asked and gave him a big smile. He wasn’t painted either.
“Oh, fine, fine,” Asim replied, “everyone’s treating me like trash and this paint is giving me a horrible headache. How about you?” He felt relieved at having the first normal conversation all day.
“Ahhh, same! I’m here with my kids,” the guy said and pointed at a small girl and boy, dressed as Viridian agents, picking posters for their rooms. “I hope they remember this when I’m old and helpless,” he laughed and Asim smiled as well. “You know they made me go all the way across town just to get this special paint for them?”
“What do you mean?” Asim furrowed his eyebrows.
“Yeah, so, that paint that’s giving you, and me if I’m honest, a headache. It’s a special color, right? It’s viridian. It’s not green, ohhhh no!” The man started laughing. “The company that made the show also made this special shade of green, as a money-grabbing scheme, I assume…”
Asim nodded and said, “Of course.”
“So when I suggested to my kids that we get normal green paint from the fancy dress costume shop, they went crazy. ‘But daaad, it’s gonna be so embarrassing if we turn up looking like the Wicked Witch!’ they said.” He laughed again. “To be frank—” he leaned in so close Asim could smell his coffee breath, an unexpected respite from the sickening paint odors “—I don’t really see the difference in color, it’s all green to me.” He smiled with all of his teeth. They both suddenly heard a small voice calling for daddy from the crowd so the man patted Asim on the shoulder and left. What a nice guy, Asim thought, unlike that bastard over there. The guy who’d sold him the mask earlier that day was staring at him, which sent chills down his spine so he quickly turned around and went deeper into the indoor desert bazaar.
He picked up a coloring book for adults with images of General Siti and her combat men and women in various fighting stances, a stainless steel water bottle with the print of a Viridian oceanscape on it, and a squeaky toy in the shape of General Siti’s pet, a gigaparrot, for his dog. He spent a few minutes observing an ongoing session of the “Portal to Viridia” board game and then joined another unpainted person in a match in “Viridian Fighters 2”.
“Thanks,” she said as she handed him the other joystick, “none of the painted people want to play with me.” She giggled like she thought it was funny rather than obnoxious. Asim was finally having some fun.
“Wait, how the hell did you do that?” he asked a few minutes later when he lost despite playing as General Siti. They shook hands and got up to let other people have a go.
“It’s a finisher against Siti. If you take her crystal, she can’t go back through the portal and she’s screwed, duh!”
He went to the crossbow booth next. The lady who was selling them smiled at him but only with the lower part of her face. Asim noticed her eyes were completely devoid of emotion. At least she’s pretending not to hate my guts. “Amazing work, is it handmade?” he asked her.
“Oh yes, designed by myself and customized by my husband,” she said pleasantly, although still dead behind the eyes. She handed him one. “Here, you wanna hold it?”
He took it and started pointing it around pretending to shoot. “Awesome! You don’t sell bolts?” He looked at the display behind her and couldn’t see any.
“Oh, dear, no, no. Safety reasons!” She shrugged and he noticed her palms were painted a lighter viridian too. Then he looked at the crossbow and noticed it was completely clean and still a perfect yellow and magenta multichrome color. Asim chuckled inwardly thinking how Malin will freak out if that paint doesn’t come off in time for her classes on Monday.
At that moment, a stream of people started coming from a room in the distance so he gave the crossbow back to the lady and went to find his sister and her friends.
“Lunch?” he asked Malin as soon as he saw her.
“Deena isn’t back from the toilet yet, let’s wait for her,” one of Malin’s friends said.
“It’s been a while, though, maybe I should go check on her,” another one said.
“What happened to Deena?” Asim asked.
“She started feeling dizzy during the lecture. Said she got a bad headache and went to the toilet, but that was like—” Malin looked at her phone “—at least 20 minutes ago.”
“It’s that damn paint, sis, can’t you smell it? It gave me a headache as well so I went and got aspirin. I’ll give some to Deena when she comes back,” Asim told his sister.
She sniffed her arm and scrunched her face. “Yeah, it’s not a great smell,” she agreed as her friend came running from the direction of the toilets.
“She’s not in there,” she said worriedly.
“Oh, she probably just went home then,” another one of the friends suggested.
“That’s unlike Deena, she’d rather die than miss seeing Agent Selony in person!” Malin said.
“Well, I didn’t find her. Try calling her, maybe she went to get some food.”
“That makes sense! I’m starving too, so let’s go to the food stalls and I’ll try calling her on our way there,” Malin added.
Still feeling a little sick from the smells around him, Asim couldn’t bring himself to eat anything so he just sat there watching the girls stuff their faces with food that was dyed a gross unappetizing green. “Their food isn’t green on the show, it’s just normal food,” he observed and suppressed a gag reflex when one of the girls licked a trickle of green mayo from her hand. He also then noticed that most of the paint on their hands had already rubbed off. “Sis, where did you buy that—”
“Guys, I’m not feeling well,” one of Malin’s friends said.
“Oh no, Keli, not you too!” another girl said with her mouth full of green burger.
“I’m just going to splash my face with some water,” Keli said and started getting up.
“Here, let me go with you, I’m not eating anyway,” Asim offered. “Meet you guys at the big portal ball thing in ten?”
Malin nodded and mouthed ‘thanks’ to her brother.
“I’ll wait in front, okay? Just shout if you need me,” Asim said to Keli, who had been leaning on him, before opening the door to the bathroom for her.
“Thanks, Asim, you’re not as bad as your sister always says,” she said and went in.
“Gee, thanks,” he replied and put his back against the wall opposite the ladies’ room. While he was waiting he noticed a guy looking just as unwell as Keli go into the men’s room and he wondered if there was something about all these paint fumes making people ill. Viridicon is turning into a class-action lawsuiticon, he thought and briefly wished he’d studied law instead of anthropology. After ten minutes had passed, Asim started getting a little worried. Isn’t ten minutes enough to hypothetically throw up and clean up? He didn’t want to barge into the ladies’ room but he was also worried Keli had fainted, hit her head on the toilet bowl and was currently bleeding to death. He looked around as if searching for someone’s permission but decided this was an emergency. If he was caught in the ladies’ room, surely he had a good enough explanation.
Asim pushed the door open and shouted, “Keli? Hello? You okay, Keli?” No reply. “Uh, Keli?” he tried again a little louder. No reply. “Is anyone in the bathroom?” he shouted and took two steps in. “Sorry, I don’t know if anyone’s in here. My friend Keli is in here but she isn’t replying,” he said very loudly just to be on the safe side, but it didn’t seem like anyone else was there. He approached the bathroom stalls and started knocking on each one and slowly pushing them open. “Keli? Please say something.” There was more than a tinge of panic in his voice now. Asim pushed open the first door, then the second, the third, and all the rest. All the stalls were empty. “What the f—”
“Hey! What the hell are you doing in here?” A woman appeared behind him and hit him with her bag. “This is the ladies’ room and you are no lady, you creep!” she said and hit him again.
“Ow, please stop that! It’s my friend, she went into the bathroom and never came out, so I had to—”
“Yeah, yeah, the toilet swallowed her! Now get the hell out or I’ll call the security! Get out!” she shrieked at him.
As he ran out he realized he had broken out in a cold sweat and his hands were shaking. She went in and she didn’t come out. She didn’t. I was here the whole time. I would have seen her, she didn’t come out. That crossbow lady went in and I saw her go out. So I would have seen Keli too!
He leaned against the wall again and tried recreating how he’d been standing and which way he’d been looking while Keli had been in the bathroom. He decided that he definitely, absolutely, one hundred percent would have seen her come out of the bathroom.
Deena! he remembered. She’s been gone since she went to the bathroom too.
Asim ran back to the portal ball where he agreed to meet up with the others but they weren’t there. He went back to the food stalls and couldn’t find them there either. He spent the next half hour unsuccessfully calling his sister’s phone and going back and forth, looking for four viridian-colored girls with red wigs in a sea of viridian-colored people with red wigs, and debating with himself whether or not to alert the security guards that his friends were missing.
Suddenly, a huge amount of people stopped whatever they were doing and started moving towards the main hall as if part of a hivemind. The panel! Fuck, I’ll never find them now. He tried avoiding the crowd but it was impossible to resist the relentless stream of people, so he ended up being pushed into the main hall against his will. Thousands of people were packed rib-crushingly tightly into the hall and the air was buzzing with excitement.
“You think they’ll come out in the costumes from the show?”
“Oh, they have to!”
“Nah, come on, they’re normal people, they’re not nerd freaks like you guys.”
“Shh, shh, oh my God, it’s starting!”
The lights went out and everyone started screaming their heads off and whistling. Beginning at the very front, the cacophony of voices turned into a chant that slowly traveled across the entire hall.
“Si-ti! Si-ti! Si-ti!”
Asim felt like it went on for ages until the lights finally turned back on and actors from the show started coming on stage. A barely audible voice from the speakers announced each of their characters’ names as the crowd screamed louder and louder.
Once the more important characters started coming out, the crowd went completely wild. “Ageeeeent Selonyyyyyy! Doctooooor Ioneeeeehhhhh! Aaaaand would you please put your hands together foooorrr—”
Asim thought his ear drums wouldn’t survive what was coming and put his index fingers in his ears.
Ungodly screams passed through him like a vibration and for a moment he thought he would faint. He could see several people around him crying, the paint smudged all over their faces. He turned around as best he could and started pushing towards the exit. “Sorry, I’m claustrophobic, sorry, so sorry, would you mind? Please, I feel sick, I need to get out.” He started elbowing the others out of his way.
“My dearest fans,” a deep female voice boomed throughout the hall and everyone went completely silent. Asim froze in place not wanting to attract any unwanted attention. All the people in front of him had completely blank stares on their faces. No, he noticed, not all of them. Only the ones with painted faces. He turned his head around and saw the actress playing General Siti front and center, smiling at the audience and… Looking at her watch? He suddenly got an idea and decided it was perfect. He threw himself onto the floor and started crawling towards the exit as fast as possible.
“My fellow Viridian men and women, the day we meet has finally arrived,” she continued as Asim was making good progress towards the exit. “I am happy beyond words and grateful and blessed to see so many of you here today.” She paused for a few seconds. “I feel at home. And you too,” her voice got a little deeper and Asim got a little closer to the door, “you too will be home soon. Close the door!” she commanded in a deadpan voice and Asim could see the light from outside becoming slimmer.
He threw himself forward before hearing a frightening bang of the door closing a few inches behind him. To the surprise of not even a dozen people and a few vendors he got up and started running towards the exit of the building.
“Attention, Viridians!” a muted but somehow horrifying polyphonic voice could be heard from the speakers inside the hall. “Form an orderly line at the—”
“Aww, man,” some unpainted guy hanging around in the foyer told his equally unpainted girlfriend, “I told you we should’ve gone inside, they’re doing like a massive LARP thing or something!”
“I don’t want to die at a dumb geek convention, there are far too many people in there!” Asim heard her reply just as he left the building.
Okay, what the fuck is going on here? He slowed down to catch his breath and started thinking. Two of my sister’s friends disappeared after going into the bathroom, then the rest of the girls vanished, a bunch of people looked like they were sick, all the people with painted skin looked like they were hypnotized in the main hall. And everyone fucking stinks!
“Why does everyone stink?!” Asim said out loud.
“Not everyone.” Asim almost made a full turn and he was just able to catch a glance from the corner of his eye of one of the truckers as he toppled down onto the ground.
“…the asshole from the coffee shop.” Asim drifted back into consciousness and heard a woman speaking somewhere above him.
“Oh yeah, I recognize his stupid toothless face now,” a different female voice said. He kept his eyes shut and hoped they wouldn’t notice he was awake. “What did he do to get hit on the head?”
“Ahh, he looked like he was going to make a scene,” a husky male voice replied. “Ran out, started shouting. He was hysterical, I had to do something,” he exaggerated.
“Right,” the first woman said. “Well, the preparations in the main hall are almost done. Everyone who hasn’t been sedated through the paint or food has been taken to Hall 3 and sedated with gas, and all the painted people are in a trance and ready to roll whenever. The General has commanded we deal with the people in the warehouse first. It is Dr. Ioneh’s assumption that, since they passed out at some point, their bodies are either too sensitive or they’d ingested too much sedative, so we need to get them to Viridia first and give them medical attention just in case. Then we’ll deal with the ones in Hall 3, and all the rest can walk. That’s it. Get your men, and get to work,” she said and Asim heard two pairs of heels and a pair of boots walking away.
Asim decided to use that opportunity to try to escape. After the initial shock of seeing a pyramid of passed out green people in one corner of the warehouse, he sneaked as silently as possible in the direction he’d heard the footsteps disappear in. Just as he was about to leave the warehouse, something stirred next to his foot.
“Holy shit, Deena? Deena, wake up!” Asim slapped the familiar face a few times, but she only let out a few incoherent sounds. He pushed aside the wigs that had fallen off a few of the people, the toy crossbows and other people’s legs from her body and tried to get her to sit up. “Deena, please, wake up!” He slapped her again, but she didn’t even flinch. He saw his hand was now covered in the viridian paint that appeared to be loaded with some sort of a drug. “Ughhh!” Asim cried out and frantically wiped his hand on Deena’s trousers. All of a sudden, he heard men laughing in the distance so he ditched his sister’s friend and ran for cover. He hid behind some crates in a dark corner of the room and tried to steady his breath.
“Aw, shit. Loralyse is going to kill me.” Asim recognized the trucker’s voice. “That damn kid is gone! You three come with me. The rest of you start carrying the bodies to the portal, double speed,” the trucker commanded.
With his ears full of his own heartbeat, Asim waited and hoped the people carrying the bodies would be stupid enough to leave the room unattended. About a minute later, he realized he couldn’t hear anything anymore. He carefully peeked from behind the crates and was relieved to find he was alone. He tried to sneak out through the windows but they appeared to be bolted shut. The bolts! He went back to the pile of people that he’d pulled Deena from and fished out her crossbow. She’d glued a real bolt to it just like Malin. He managed to pull it off, breaking the toy crossbow in the process. And what the hell am I going to do with this? Stab someone? He shuddered and tried not to let himself dwell on that thought, at least not for now. Instead, he cautiously approached the door, scanned the hallway and ran as fast as he could.
I am the luckiest man in the universe, he thought as he picked a door blindly and accidentally ended up in the foyer of the convention center which was by now completely devoid of visitors and vendors. Asim didn’t yet fully understand what was going on, but his main goal was to find his sister and get out of there, preferably alive. He ran for the crossbow booth and tried loading the bolt on a few of them. His hands were slippery from all the sweat and shaking, and the string was so rigid he couldn’t cock it all the way. “Ffffff, come on, you piece of alien shit,” he whispered angrily at the crossbow. Once he felt a vein threatening to burst behind his eyes, he stopped trying, stuck the bolt up his sleeve and peeked from behind the booth.
“I can’t believe you let him escape, Davis!”
The door to the main hall opened just enough to let two people out and Asim pulled his head back behind the booth.
“We’re both dead if the General finds out about this,” the woman Asim assumed was Loralyse sounded shaken.
“I sent three men to search for him, they’re going through the yard right now,” the man replied.
“If he’s not in the yard, lock all the doors. If he’s trapped inside, we’ll find him eventually. And if he’s already gone—” She suddenly stopped and lowered her voice. “Then it’s both of our heads on the chopping block. So you better find him!”
A few seconds after they each went their own way, the door to the main hall opened once again and at least two dozen of the vendors and actors from the show, now in combat suits and armed with crossbows, walked out and marched towards Hall 3. Asim could see it was dark inside the main hall so he decided to risk it and go in because he assumed that’s where Malin was. If anything happens to her, I swear… Asim carefully pressed a finger against the sharp tip of the bolt in his sleeve. The prospect of hurting or even killing another living being horrified him, but it was starting to sink in that there was a good chance he’d have to use violence to save her. I haven’t been the best brother in the world, but nobody hurts my baby sister!
Asim took a deep breath and hurried towards the main hall. When he got close to the door, he threw himself on the ground. He slithered into the hall and immediately took a sharp left turn towards the small staircase leading to the gallery. Still crouching, he climbed up a few stairs and lifted his head just enough to see the front of the hall. Above thousands of unmoving heads, General Siti was standing on the stage talking to the guy playing Dr. Ioneh in the show. Playing? In the show? Is it a show? Because it’s beginning to sound like Viridia is a real place. Fuck, I hope this is just an awful nightmare.
He noticed that several big, green men were bringing in passed out people from somewhere on the left. All of a sudden, a commotion could be heard from the hallway and a few seconds later the vendors and actors that had just left the hall were now coming back, dragging a bunch of unpainted people across the floor, all the way to the front. These must be the people that woman had said they’d sedated in Hall 3. Asim sank lower and thought, I am so fucking dead.
“This is already taking way too long, and I have to say—” General Siti started speaking relatively calmly, but her voice was getting more erratic with each word. “—I am extremely disappointed in the sloppy work you’ve done on this planet.” Everyone stopped in their tracks. “Do not for a single second think there will be no consequences once we return to Viridia. I expect some of these poor souls will not make it through the portal alive. Why?! Because you! Are! Sloppy! You over there!” she shouted and pointed exactly at Asim, who thought his heart was going to give out. “Why are you idiots bringing in the people from Hall 3 instead of helping with the people our good doctor here deemed a priority?!” A bunch of them quickly dropped their passed out, unpainted people and ran for the door on the left to start helping out with the others. “The Great Families were promised one thousand slaves each! Do you think there will be enough for everyone?!” She was starting to sound maniacal. “Do you?!” Asim could see her spittle flying through the air on the badly lit stage.
General Siti went quiet and started pacing left and right. Asim let out the breath he’d been holding, thinking the screaming was over, but a few seconds later she continued her speech, even more ferociously.
“It’s not just this that’s a shitshow—” she pointed vaguely at everything “—the whole marketing campaign was a complete fucking disaster! Not even three hundred visitors from out of town?! Where are the billboards, where are the online ads, where’s your fucking Instagram engagement?!” Asim thought he could see her face turning brown, which he guessed was what viridian-skinned people looked like when they went red. General Siti put her thumb and index fingers on the bridge of her nose and took a deep breath. She started again, sounding slightly less mad, “If there are not exactly or more than five thousand slaves at the end of this, it’ll be you and your loved ones taking their place. And do you want to see your little sons and daughters slaving away for the Barros? Or the Sinirovs?” She looked a few people directly into their eyes and everyone quickened their step. “Now, Dr. Ioneh, if you’d please,” she said to the shriveled old green man next to her and he handed her a big shiny crystal.
“This is the last of it, General, and, ah, congratulations, my dear,” he said proudly.
She took the crystal, removed the lid, drank half of whatever was inside it and pushed it back into the doctor’s hands. Ohhh, they drink from the lava lamp! Asim thought just as a blinding light exploded out of General Siti’s chest area, forming a perfect golden circle a few feet in front of her. Asim stared in disbelief and wiped the sweat from his eyes. Shit, shit, shit!
Dr. Ioneh gestured to the men to start bringing the passed out people to the portal. A guy that Asim recognized as one of the truckers who had shouted at him at the loading zone took a person in his arms. Another guy put another person on top of the first and the trucker went up on stage, walked up to the circle and… He went in?! He just walked into it and now he’s gone?! Oh my God, those two people! My sister!
While Asim was looking around trying to figure out which of the thousands of hypnotized people was his sister and losing his mind over what he just saw, another man with another two fainted people walked into the circle, and then another one and another one. A few minutes later, the men that took the people inside the portal came back out, empty-handed.
Asim was too busy trying to breathe and think, Think! For fuck’s sake!, so he didn’t even realize he’d stuck his head a little too far out. Suddenly, a high-pitched voice behind him shouted, “There you are, you little weasel! Get him!” He turned around for just long enough to see the girl from the coffee shop standing at the hall entrance, pointing her finger at him. He instinctively ran upstairs into the gallery hoping there would be a door or a window he could jump through. He ran for the first door he saw, but then it opened and a huge viridian beast of a man grabbed him.
“Bring him to me,” General Siti called from the stage below.
“Loralyse, you better have a good explanation for this,” General Siti spoke to the girl.
“You, you’re, you’re—” Not even Asim was sure what he wanted to say.
“Shut up, Earth scum!” the General commanded him and stared the girl down.
“I’m so sorry, General, he somehow avoided all the sedatives we’ve put into the air and food and drinks. I don’t know how this ha—”
“Do you want to end up in the Great Families’ service? Or your sick old mother? You know what sort of demented demands and desires the rich have!” the General spat.
“No, Ma’am! Yes, Ma’am,” the girl was on the verge of tears.
“Get out of my face! You,” the General addressed the man holding Asim, “bring that insect here!”
The man shoved Asim forward so hard he fell to his knees right in front of General Siti.
“We don’t appreciate difficult little worms like you on our planet,” she said. “We like our slaves to be complacent and obedient, and so far, you’re not proving to be either. So give me one good reason not to execute you right here and now!” she roared like a pissed off, green lioness.
“I—” Asim stopped what he was going to say and started laughing. What am I even doing?!
“What are you laughing about, scum?!” General Siti shouted at him.
“I’m just so—” he looked up at her face “—so, so unbelievably honored to meet you, General Siti! You’re my favorite character on the show.” He gave her the friendliest smile he could muster and got up. She was much smaller than him, but the men were stunned by Asim’s unexpected behavior and didn’t react to him being so close to her.
“What?!” She laughed in such a disgusting way he couldn’t believe he’d jerked off to her once during that sexy scene in season five. “You pathetic, stupid, fanatical Earthlings are truly the perfect choice for our slaves. After that fiasco in the Whirlpool Galaxy we needed something easy. Do you want my autograph, insect?” She laughed again. “Get—”
In that moment—a second that seemed to last at least a millenium to Asim—he let the bolt slide a few inches out of his sleeve and gave General Siti an uppercut, driving the bolt up into her lower jaw. He quickly got behind her and grabbed her with one hand while still holding the bolt in her face. She immediately started struggling to breathe and coughing out blood while he was pulling her backwards across the stage. Oh my fucking God, I could have killed her! He gave her shocked face a quick look and saw the bolt was sticking out through her right cheek. Okay, she can breathe. For now. Asim was in the middle of fighting the urge to have a nervous breakdown when he noticed several of the General’s minions started moving towards them.
“Stand back, you green fucking assholes, or I’ll finish her!” Asim screamed at them. He was seeing double and seriously freaking out by now, but the thought of his sister being a slave to some alien sickos overcame his senses and he managed to compose himself. “Get back into the portal and bring those people back now!”
The men were confused at first, but General Siti gave them a hand signal to obey Asim. While they were bringing the people back out, Asim turned to the doctor. “How do we cure them? Tell me or, I swear—”
“Okay, okay, calm down, son,” Dr. Ioneh said. “They can be cured in the regular human hospitals as well, just, please, the General, she’ll choke if I don’t help her,” he pleaded with Asim.
“You’re not helping anyone until all those people have been returned. Now tell me how to bring all these others out of their trance, and stand back! Stop walking towards me!” Asim screamed at the doctor.
“Okay, okay! If they’ve been sedated through food and drink, it’ll be over once the chemicals leave their bodies. The paint needs to be washed off. And those that inhaled the gas, they just need to wait it out,” the doctor said in a quavering voice.
“You better not be lying to me.” Asim’s right arm was completely bloody and he noticed the General had gotten much heavier over the past few seconds. She’s losing consciousness! “Stand back, or I promise you, I will push this thing straight into her brain.” Asim blinked hard a couple of times, trying with all his might not to visualize what he’d just described. He didn’t need to give himself another reason to throw up, give up and let the aliens kill him.
“Please, look—” the doctor pointed at the portal “—they’re bringing the people back. Just don’t… Please, we need her alive.”
They are bringing them back, Asim thought. And what am I supposed to do after that? How exactly do I not get killed tonight? He tried to remember how the portal can be irreversibly closed. The last time that happened was in the season three finale and it was this huge cliffhanger that everyone lost their shit over. He’d heard about it but he’d never seen it because he never bothered to watch the first three seasons. Maybe his sister was right and he wasn’t a true fan. Come on, think! There must have been something here today, some poster or game or… The game! The fighting game with that girl! She stole my crystal! And I couldn’t teleport back and… Ughhh, something!
“Doctor, bring me the lava lamp,” Asim suddenly said.
“Uhh, what?” The doctor looked like he genuinely had no idea what Asim was talking about.
“Shit, the crystal, bring me the crystal. Now!” he shouted at Dr. Ioneh and accidentally pushed the bolt deeper, causing General Siti to make a horrible gurgling sound. The doctor reluctantly took the crystal and brought it forward so Asim assumed he was doing the correct thing. “Good, put it down there and go back!”
Once the doctor was far away enough Asim started walking to the crystal, dragging the now fully unconscious General Siti carefully so as not to kill her. When he was close to the crystal, he pulled it closer with his foot and picked it up.
“Davis! Davis, I need you here, now!” the old doctor started yelling in panic, too frail and afraid to do anything himself. Asim opened the crystal flask and put it against General Siti’s lips. Doctor Ioneh let out a desperate yelp.
“I’m giving you a chance to leave before I close the p—”
“This is all the people, kid…” The trucker came out of the portal and spoke to Asim, but then he saw that Asim was holding the crystal flask and that Dr. Ioneh had a look of terror on his face. “Doctor?” the trucker spoke to the doctor as if asking for instructions.
“Davis, I suggest you take our people and go back through the portal right now,” the doctor said in almost a whisper and Davis started shouting at everyone to drop everything and go into the portal.
“You know what I think, doc?” Seeing all those Viridians running away in a stampede, Asim got a burst of bravery and knew he had to make good use of it. Davis was looking at him like he wanted to kill him, so he tipped the crystal slightly upwards to show Davis he won’t be easily messed with. “I think I’m holding the rest of your go-go juice and your only source hostage,” he said, loud enough for everyone to hear him. Asim felt feverish and couldn’t imagine going on for much longer. “And I am this fucking close to spilling the rest of it in her mouth!” he was shaking all over. “For a superior alien race, you sure are a bunch of idiots. Only bringing as much juice as you need!” Asim started laughing hysterically.
“Well, we didn’t really—”
“What?!” Asim interrupted the doctor.
“Well, there is more ju— I mean, more crystal water.” He chuckled a little before adding, “Obviously. There is an unlimited amount on Viridia. We can always send someone back to Viridia to get more if necessary,” the doctor said and gave Asim the same look his math teacher used to give him when he didn’t understand anything.
“Not always,” Asim mockingly chuckled before adding, “obviously! And yeah, I watched your show.” He pretended like he’d already known all this. “The writing is cringeworthy and your special effects look like shit. So unless you are fine with me making her guzzle up the rest of this, closing the portal and leaving you stranded on Earth forever, I suggest you all fuck off, together.” Asim ended his speech, having finally figured out that if they don’t have a source to drink the crystal water at any given location, there is no way for them to remotely open a portal. They’d have to travel light years from wherever they were back to Earth, which was the real reason everyone was panicking and rushing back through the portal instead of trying to attack him. Most of them were probably just regular people wanting to get back home to their families.
He was missing one final piece to the puzzle, though.
“Well?!” Asim screamed, losing the last atom of patience he’d had.
“Yes, yes, just please, be careful with her and send her back to us,” the old doctor begged and started walking to the portal.
“Yeah, uhh, about that, doc,” Asim replied, “how do I make her go back?”
“Excuse me?” the doctor croaked.
“What do I do to send her back to Viridia?” he repeated through his teeth and the trucker, Davis, chortled, making him feel stupid.
“You, uh, well, you break the crystal. Put it in her hand and make it shatter,” the doctor said.
Really?! This portal technology is shit! Completely unreliable and run by utter morons!
“How can we know for sure that he’ll—” Davis started.
“You’ll have to trust me! Get off my fucking planet!” Asim let General Siti drop to the floor and turned the crystal upside down. The doctor ran towards Davis and they both barely managed to go through when Asim let the rest of the contents of the flask spill into the General’s mouth. The large portal zoomed backwards into her and only a small golden circle was now visible in the middle of General Siti’s chest. Asim put the crystal into her lifeless hand and stomped on it.
General Siti’s body disappeared into thin air and Asim dropped to his knees, finally throwing up where she had been lying just moments ago. Feeling delirious, with the most excruciating headache of his life banging against his skull, he looked into the semi-darkness of the hall and, finally, he saw her. Malin, tiny and helpless, her eyes still closed in blissful ignorance, lying on a mound of people like a cherry… well, a broccoli on top of a cake. Never had he been this happy to see his little sister’s face, and he felt like he could cry from joy.
“What the hell is going on here? Where are my kids?!” A man got up from the pile of unconscious people that had been sedated with gas in Hall 3. It was the nice guy who’d brought his two kids to the convention.
“We’re gonna need an ambulance,” Asim breathed out, “and a huge hose.” He let himself collapse to the floor in exhaustion. “I’m never going to another fucking convention in my life,” he concluded and passed out.
© 2021. Melina Tsukar
Melina Tsukar is an English teacher, avid reader and wannabe writer. In her spare time she writes book reviews on Instagram, and in her even sparer time she enjoys mountain hiking, baking and going to costume parties. She finds inspiration everywhere—life, nature, art and the endless void of her cat’s pupils.
Urednički komentar: Ova je priča taman ono što smo zamislili kad smo propisali konove kao temu natječaja. Dosjetljiva, humoristična, zabavna i odlično napisana, Portal to Viridia odaje počast fandomskoj kulturi i žanru.